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Kristin Korb / Cosmologic with Anthony Davis at Conrad Prebys Recital Hall in San Diego

Robert Bush By

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Kristin Korb / Cosmologic with special guest Anthony Davis
Conrad Prebys Recital Hall, UCSD
San Diego, CA
January 22, 2011

UCSD's internationally heralded music department hosted concerts by returning alumni and faculty in a weeklong celebration of the program's many successes. Saturday night's affair featured singer/double-bassist Kristin Korb playing solo and the wonderful, cooperative free jazz quartet Cosmologic.

Kristin Korb

The pristine acoustics of the recital hall made Korb's solo appearance a special treat. She displayed an absolutely gorgeous sound on the double bass—which could be heard in every detail of this performance. She also had a refreshingly disarming enthusiasm that made her off-the-cuff remarks and story-telling between songs seem like she was talking to the audience, rather than at them. Korb has several releases under her belt, including her latest, In The Meantime (Double K Music,2009). She made her recording debut with the Ray Brown Trio, Introducing Kristin Korb, (Telarc,1996).

Korb began her set with a lilting Latin vamp comprising all harmonics before settling into the body of the well-traveled standard "Green Dolphin Street." Although Esperanza Spalding gets all the press, Korb has actually been doing the bass/vocal thing for quite a bit longer. When she began to sing, it was hard not to notice her many attributes: she's got a beautiful, natural alto voice, and superb pitch. Her bass playing is as solid as an oak trunk and her timbre on the instrument is full of both fundamentals and color. While singing, she never strained for high notes and at all times exuded a sense of relaxation, even when the tempos raced. After dispensing with the melody, she offered up some neat scatting, then an equally inventive bass solo. The audience, mainly consisting of musicians, their significant others, and music students, roared in approval.

Korb followed up with a sumptuous reading of "I Want To Be Loved" which furthered the notion that she could be equally successful as a double-bassist or a singer. That she was able to do both with such aplomb speaks to the hard work she has invested in her craft. Korb is an unabashed "straight-ahead" jazz musician/singer with a definite preference for the Great American Songbook. She reminded everyone just how valid a path that can be when performed by a master of the genre.

For her finale, Korb related a story about how the iconic bassist Ray Brown (one of her mentors), called her up one day requesting she write lyrics to the Count Basie gem, "Whirlybird." After some initial pangs of doubt, she plunged into the task, writing words for the melody and the solos. Listening to Korb race through her hilarious results at top speed with unerring swing got the audience to its feet.

Cosmologic, with special guest Anthony Davis

Cosmologic formed in 1998, when three of its members were students at UCSD.Their latest release, Eyes In The Back Of My Head (Cuneiform, 2008), is essential listening. They are that rare example of a cooperative group that has managed to stay together with the same personnel for more than 12 years. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that they all lead groups and record individually, and all are involved as sidemen in many other ensembles. This performance was a reunion of sorts, since their members (with the exception of percussionist Nathan Hubbard) live in different cities now. Cosmologic plays a brand of "free jazz" that is actually highly composed. Each member brings compositions that are then filtered through their collective engine, often changing them dramatically. This group has the kind of telepathic dynamic that can only come from years of playing together.

Cosmologic has a front-line to die for: on tenor saxophone: Jason Robinson, whose latest effort as a leader, The Two Faces Of Janus (Cuneiform, 2010) has been warmly received; and on trombone, Michael Dessen who has been dividing his time between teaching at UC Irvine and performing in the contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser Quintet. Robinson often draws a beautiful arc of the tenor saxophone history. He will start off running the changes with a burnished tone a la Trane or Rollins, then gradually morph into Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp territory. Trombonist Dessen is likewise versatile: at his core he possesses a gorgeous, almost classical tone. He can take that tone though, and manipulate it in a dozen compelling ways. Robinson and Dessen have played together so long that part of their aesthetic seems to be the ability to finish each others thoughts.

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